If there's a super-hot button among the remodelers I know, it's accountability and how to achieve it. I often hear, “Why can't my employees be responsible for what they promise? For what we require? For following our systems? For getting it done on time or on budget?”

Accountability is “a personal choice to … demonstrate the ownership necessary for achieving desired results,” say the authors of The Oz Principle: Getting Results Through Individual and Organizational Accountability. Wikipedia defines accountability as the acknowledgement and assumption of responsibility for actions and decisions, including the obligation to report, explain, and be answerable for the consequences.

Both of these definitions seem to put the emphasis on the individual, and to some degree it's true: You're unlikely to transform an individual who accepts no responsibility in his or her personal life into a highly accountable hire. At the same time, there's more to the challenge than merely hiring folks who are willing to take responsibility. You must also give them the structure and the culture that are needed to make accountability work.

Melton Construction, in Boulder, Colo., has been building an accountability culture for several years. “People who have the ability to organize their own lives seem to have a higher likelihood of helping me keep my business family in order,” says owner Ty Melton. “Some people have never worked at a company like ours, with goals, meetings, and job descriptions. The right employee thrives on having a compass, and on resetting and achieving goals.”

Melton's push for accountability centers on a monthly “goals meeting.” Here's how he describes the format:

“All hands show up. We start promptly. I give a brief overview of the state of the company. Then we review goals department by department. For instance, our marketing goal is $600,000 worth of leads each month. Sales and design are responsible for keeping $1.2 million of work in backlog” —roughly four months of work, he says.

Melton's estimating department has two goals for each project: a specific gross profit and the delivery of a complete handoff package, as graded by the production manager. “Production has the hardest job in the company because they are responsible for three metrics,” Melton says. Jobs must be completed on time, as measured by a spreadsheet; on budget, as measured by gross profit; and to the delight of clients, as measured by a satisfaction survey.

Should any department have difficulty meeting its goals, a “lightning round” is held in which department members voice ideas for getting back on track. A department representative then presents the specific ideas they plan to pursue.

With his monthly goals meeting, Melton reinforces key components of making accountability a core company value:

  • Accountability thrives in the right culture.
  • Clear metrics are defined for success or failure in each department. Those metrics are tied to key success indicators in the company plan.
  • The team pressures each department to do its part.
  • Team members help one another refocus on achieving their goals, when necessary.
  • Accountability has consequences. The team can come down on you, the boss can come down on you, and, ultimately, you can work elsewhere.

Accountability works for everyone on Melton's team, individually and collectively. “The goals meetings help create a stable, less stressful work environment,” he says. “If each one of us does our own part, we will all succeed.” By setting the culture and defining clear expectations, he allows it all to happen.